Saturday, 18 February 2012

Britney, Booze and the Bible II (Only without any Britney this time)

Here's a question.
You're the King. Your army is off fighting in a distant land, but you're getting on a bit these days so you've decided to stick around at home and tend to your orchids. Well, you're pottering around on the roof of your palace one balmy afternoon when you glance idly across towards your neighbour's house, and what should you accidentally spy through your high-powered army-issue binoculars but Mrs Uriah The Hittite - Bathsheba to her friends - in the nip, having a bath. Before you quite know what's happening, you've pulled the whole "Hey, I'm the King" line on her, had a whirlwind affair, and got her pregnant. But here's a problem... Mr Uriah The Hittite has been away with the army this whole time, so it's going to be pretty darn obvious to him, and to everyone else, that the bun in Bathsheba's oven was not put there by him. Fingers and tongues will wag, and it'll only be a matter of time before someone says "Hmm, she's been hanging out with the King a bit lately, could it be that they weren't just playing Scrabble and discussing this seasons' flip-flop fashions?"

So you hatch a cunning plan: summon Uriah, the husband, back from the war for a quick debriefing, let him make the most of the opportunity for a quick conjugal visit, then send him back to battle blissfully unaware that he's just provided the perfect alibi for the duff which his wife is now up. Only thing: Uriah is one of those tiresome honourable types who doesn't think it would be fair to get cosy with his wife while his brothers are busy dying face down in the mud. So he refuses to go home after his debriefing, and sleeps on the palace steps. Numpty.

Time is running out. Your reputation is at stake. You have an overly-honourable Hittite who needs to step up and perform his husbandly duties, and he seems inexplicably immune to the charms of his scorching hot wife. What do you do?

What do you do?

The answer is obvious, right?
Get him drunk.

Hello, by the way, and welcome to part two of our fleeting foray into the fascinating field of booze in the Bible. In part one we saw that getting drunk can lead to unfortunate public exposure of things best left covered, it can lead to unfortunate intimacy with people best kept at a healthy distance, it can lead to unfortunate cases of mistaken identity among wedding parties, it can lead to unfortunate cases of getting stabbed, hung or smote, and it can lead to freaky visions and tables full of vomit. So surely it can also lead to Uriah ditching his principles, staggering home and fulfilling his marital obligations with Bathsheba?

Well, no. In case you hadn't realised by now, this hypothetical situation is one that actually arose back in the days when David was King of Israel. Here's how it panned out:
And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk. And in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. (2 Samuel 11:13)
See, alcohol can lead to all these things. But it doesn't have to. Uriah, in this case, was apparently quite capable of taking a skinful and still sticking to his morals. He sleeps in the servants' quarters rather than betray his comrades-in-arms by relaxing with his missus.

(Sadly for Uriah, this forces King David to resort to Plan B: He sends Uriah back to the war with a letter to his commanding officer which basically says "Please make sure the bearer of this letter gets accidentally dead. Love, King Dave." Uriah is killed, David marries Bathsheba, and the rest is history.)

My point is this: King David, supposedly the Good Guy, behaves like a total rogue. While sober.
Uriah The Hittite, drunk or sober, behaves like a gent. Drinking in the Bible doesn't always lead to bad things, and bad things aren't always caused by drunkenness.

So, that shocking revelation out of the way, here is Part Two - The Bible's Case For Booze. And, because I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get Britney into an article about the goodness of alcohol, today's gratuitous images will be provided by the legendary country-music sweetheart Kellie Pickler. Feel free to construct your own puns about getting pickled.

1) Wine Really Can Be Medicinal

Apparently it's chocolate. Chocolate is also medicinal.
As is ice-cream, shopping, and Jane Austen movies.

We've all heard that a glass of red wine a day will give you superhuman strength and will stop you ageing, but this is old news. Wine has a long history in the field of medicine, and Paul, who in our last post was pointing out the perils of drunkenness, is never-the-less not against wine in moderation, as his advice to Timothy shows:
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. (1 Timothy 5:23)

2) Wine Can Make You Merry

Good lighting, expensive dental work and Photoshop
can also make you merry, but wine is easier to come by.

The dictionary thingy that comes with my Mac defines "merry" thusly:

merry |ˈmerē|adjective ( merrier merriest )
cheerful and lively the narrow streets were dense with merry throngs of students a merry grin.

It goes on to say that it is also an informal British term for "slightly and good-humoredly drunk".

The translators of the ESV Bible seemingly agree - the word "merry" comes up sixteen times in the whole Bible: drinking is explicitly mentioned in at least twelve of those instances, and is implied in most of the rest. As we saw in the last post, getting overly merry sometimes leads to disaster, but sometimes it just leads to, well, merriment.

[We all know that alcohol is a depressant, but apparently that just means it "depresses the function or activity of a specific part of the brain" (hurrah for Wikipedia), which is not the same as saying it makes people depressed. Of course, sometimes the specific part of the brain it depresses appears to be the part that would normally tell you that a bad case of hiccoughs, say, or discovering your friend doesn't have a middle name, isn't actually the saddest thing you have ever experienced in your life, and that bursting into tears is therefore a bit of an overreaction. But hey. If you don't drink too much of it, it'll make you merry.]

Other parts of the Bible agree:
You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man's heart. (Psalm 104:14-15)
In the Book Of Judges, a guy called Jotham tells a fable in which the different trees are trying to choose a King. The olive tree refuses the job because it's busy blessing the world with oil. The fig tree refuses the job, because it's busy providing sweet fruit for mankind. Then the trees ask the vine:
And the trees said to the vine, "You come and reign over us." But the fig tree said to them "Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?" (Judges 9:13)
We can't pin too much on this one, since it's a story told by a guy to the people who were responsible for murdering sixty-nine of his brothers, and his key point clearly wasn't to explain the benefits of fermented grape juice. But at the very least it shows that it was a fairly uncontroversial viewpoint to hold in those days. Wine is a cheering thing.

Incidentally, after telling his tale, Jotham goes and lives in a place called Beer. Just saying.

3) Wine Can Be An Anaesthetic

Of course, if you can't remember stuff anyway,
you don't really need to drink to forget it.

How's this for some dangerous-sounding advice:

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
    and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
    and remember their misery no more. (Proverbs 31:6-7)
NOTE to Prince Charlie, Prince Willy and Prince Harry, who are of course frequent visitors to this blog:
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. (Proverbs 31:4-5)

I don't think this is saying we should give a six-pack of White Lightning to every homeless guy we meet. And as "Ann Landers" once wrote: "People who drink to drown their sorrow should be told that sorrow knows how to swim." Nice. But when life is getting you down, sometimes you just need your mates to take you out, buy you a beer and tell you funny stories.

4) Wine Can Be A Good Way To Celebrate

Other good ways to celebrate are to sniff your friend's eyes,
to open your mouth really wide and to count your fingers.

We are used to having a bit of bubbly at weddings. It's one of the things that make the speeches bearable. (If any of you out there are thinking of inviting me to your weddings, and you don't plan to have champers for the toasts, then you better make sure that your speeches are damn funny. I mean it. Seriously. Damn funny.)

Anyway, there's a good Biblical precedent for this. I could mention Jesus' water-into-wine miracle here, but I'm saving that for the big finish. Instead, we can go back even further, way way waaaay back into Deuteronomy. You may have heard of tithing - the idea of giving back to God part of what he has given to you. It's a complicated thing, but here are some of God's instructions to the Israelites about it:

And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deuteronomy 14:24-26)

So God blesses the Israelites, they give part of that blessing back to God, and in the process they celebrate - with wine or strong drink if they so desire. (Note: this isn't a boozy celebration of themselves, which we saw in the last post often leads to disaster - it's a boozy celebration of God. Very different.)

5) Wine Can Be Romantic

I thought this was quite a nice picture until I started to worry that
the hands on their waists might actually belong to a freakish little man
standing behind them and trying to crush them together.

The Song of Songs paints some pretty erotically-charged pictures, and wine is a common ingredient of the imagery:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine; (Song of Songs 1:2)

How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! (Song of Songs 4:10)
Interesting cocktail recipe here:

I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.
Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love! (Song of Songs 5:1)
Or how about this for a chat-up line:
How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
   O noble daughter!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
   the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl
   that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
   encircled with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
   twins of a gazelle. (Song of Songs 7:1-3)
Given our society's ridiculous obsession with size zero stick figures, rounded thighs and heaped bellies may not sound all that complimentary, but to anyone who enjoys a glass of fine wine I'd just like to point out that you can't fit a lot of it in a size zero belly button. Anyway.

Getting steamier:
Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
   and the scent of your breath like apples,
and your mouth like the best wine.
It goes down smoothly for my beloved,
   gliding over lips and teeth. (Song of Songs 7:8b-9)
And I wouldn't like to say what this is about:
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
   the juice of my pomegranate. (Song of Songs 8:2b)

I'm being a little irreverent here. This isn't meant to be smutty - it's a heady, romantic depiction of love between a man and his betrothed - a yearning anticipation of a deep, committed intimacy that eventually takes place between husband and wife. It's not a drunken game of hide-the-sausage in a dingy back-alley behind a night-club with a girl you've just met.

6) Good Wine Is A Little Glimpse Of Heaven

Disappointingly, when I googled "Kellie Pickler dressed as an angel" all I got
was Kellie Pickler dressed as a hot-dog. Just use your imagination, okay?

Permit me to do a little thought experiment here. What is the first thing that comes into your head when you read the word "Heaven"?
Is it:

a) Angels
b) Clouds
c) Harps
d) Angels on clouds with harps?

And what's the first thing you think when I say "Heaven will last for ever"?
Is it:

a) Argh! I don't like angels! I'm going to be so bored!
b) Argh! I don't like clouds! I'm going to be so bored!
c) Argh! I don't like harps! I'm going to be so bored!
d) Hang on, how come the angels don't fall through the clouds?

Somehow popular culture has lumbered us with an image of heaven that is pretty heavy on white and floaty things, and pretty light on fun and exciting things. I reckon I would last about half an hour in a land populated entirely by harpists. Just thinking about it is giving me a cold sweat.

Fortunately the Bible paints a much more interesting picture than this. We can't really get our limited little heads around just how good heaven will be, so God describes it using images we can relate to:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
   of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. (Isaiah 25:6)
And in that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
   and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the streambeds of Judah
   shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD
   and water the Valley of Shittim. (Joel 3:18)
On that day the LORD their God will save them,
   as the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
   they shall shine on his land.
For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!
   Grain shall make the young men flourish,
   and new wine the young women. (Zechariah 9:16-17)

Doesn't that sound a bit more interesting than halos and endless celestial plucking?

So now, finally, we can talk about the water-into-wine incident...

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

This isn't simply Jesus doing a party trick, or helping out a mate, or responding to pushy-parent syndrome. John calls this a "sign". God's new creation is characterised by an abundance of really really good wine, and here we have Jesus providing somewhere in the region of 750 bottles of Chateau Lafite quality vintage. He's making a statement about who he is and what he's come to do.

Well, it's time to wrap this up. Wine can cheer you, can ease your pain (physical or emotional), it can be a great way to celebrate, and the joy we get from a nice bottle of wine is a good picture of the joys of married love and a tiny foretaste of heaven. Wine is a blessing from God.

Obviously this is not a command to drink. If you struggle with alcohol addiction, or you are underage, or you are teetotal for whatever reason, then stay off the stuff. Please don't take what I've written here, booze yourself into a stupor and then claim that the Bible told you to do it. This post is only part of the story - don't forget the downsides we already mentioned, and join me in the next post when I'll introduce some highly controversial new factors. You wouldn't want to miss that...

And I'll leave you with the fabulous Kellie Pickler demonstrating the devastating mental acuity for which she is so highly revered. Cheers, Kellie.

1 comment:

  1. So drink and stick to your morals and you will die for your efforts, and never toast your marriage on the beach in case a mini man pushes you and your bride together? I've learned a lot. I'm just not sure what to do with it.